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Pretty in blue: eight Hyacinthella species

March 28, 2023
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In this short account of the genus, Ray Drew looks at eight favourite Hyacinthella species. These pretty spring bulbs, related to grape hyacinths, have similar flowers in shades of blue.


The genus Hyacinthella comprises around 18 species. Four of these come from SE Europe while the other 14 extend as far as SW Asia. Botanists recognise several subspecies and a naturally occurring hybrid. Most thrive in hot, dry rocky areas, with the highest density of species coming from central southern Anatolia, Turkey.

The genus was first described in 1856 (Schur) but spent much of its existence as a section of genus Hyacinthus. With a number of reassignments in the genus Hyacinthus, along with the creation of a number of new genera, Feinbruns monograph of the genus (1961) became accepted. Of the cytological and morphological characters deemed important in describing the genus, the capsule is the most distinctive and immediately separates it from the closely related Hyacinthus, Bellevalia, Muscari and Alrawia in which the capsules are relatively large. In contrast, in Hyacinthella the capsules are small, consequently, the seed is also quite small.

Differentiating between the species can be tricky, as some are superficially very similar but a very good key is available, on-line: Candollea 36: 513-841 (1981). This particular key is quite old but it still works well. A few name changes have taken place in the interim; using World Flora Online can easily sort these out, (click on pictures to enlarge).


Due to their small size and cultural needs, Hyacinthella species are best grown in pots in the alpine house in cool, damper climates. Happy with me in a general Alpine mix of equal parts John Innes No3, sandy grit and multi-purpose compost. Vegetative division is quite productive but seed gives the best means of bulking up. Being quite small, it takes a few individuals in a pot to make a good show. Seed grown plants can be expected to flower in their 3rd year after sowing.

Most, if not all, of the species are in cultivation but tracking them down can be a challenge.

Hyacinthella hispida

Perhaps the most easily identified member of the genus is Hyacinthella hispida. This is Bob and Rannveig’s potful, shown at the Early Spring Show in 2023, grown from JJA seed, sown 11/02 (The species has been awarded a Preliminary Commendation by the Joint Rock Garden Committee).

The leaves are covered on both surfaces and margins with white hairs. Notice also, the long pedicel (flower stalk) behind the dark blue flowers. The species grows wild in central southern Turkey.

Hyacinthella hispida - small blue bulbs

Hyacinthella hispida - credit Ray Drew

Hyacinthella lineata

Another species with hairs on the leaves, although this time much reduced is Hyacinthella lineata. Once a subspecies of H. hispida (‘hispid’ means covered in stiff hairs or bristles), this is another species with long pedicels but now the flowers are more waisted. The flower head starts off quite cone-shaped but elongates as the flowers start to set seed. Mainly found in western Turkey. Seed raised, originating from 3km S of Eskisehir, Turkey.

Hyacinthella acutiloba

Hyacinthella acutiloba is another species with ‘bristles’ on the leaf edges. Now the tips of the typically pale blue petals are more pointed (acute) rather than rounded (obtuse) as in the previous species. The presence of (usually) three leaves when of flowering size is also a key feature. Grown from seed received from Gothenburg BG, collected in the Taurus mountains, Turkey.

Hyacinthella dalmatica

Often seen erroneously labelled Hyacinthella pallens, Hyacinthella dalmatica is commonly seen on the Alpine Garden Society show benches in the invalid form ‘Grandiflora’. The image shown is of Peter Farkasch’s plant at the Early Spring Show in 2012. This is another species that often has three leaves with soft, baby-blue flowers. NW Balkan peninsula of the former Yugoslavia.

Hyacinthella dalmatica

Hyacinthella dalmatica

Hyacinthella heldreichii

Hyacinthella heldreichii has probably the darkest flowers in the genus, a taxonomic feature being that the flowers are a ‘very dark blue-violet’. The flower spike becomes quite lax with age. Bulks up quite quickly vegetatively and varies very little when grown from seed. The example below has been grown from seed ex central Cicilian Taurus.

Hyacinthella glabrescens

Hyacinthella glabrescens is very similar to Hyacinthella heldreichii except the two (main) leaves are often broader and about the same width as each other (unequal in H. heldreichii). Flowers are described as ‘deep blue-violet’. I also grow a white form which is in cultivation, seed of which comes fairly true. Coming from a more westerly area of Turkey than the previous species.

Hyacinthella lAzulina

The colour of Hyacinthella lazulina can vary from a lightish blue (ex OS925 from the Sertavul pass on the central Taurus mountains) to quite a dark purple-blue (this form came as seed of H. heldreichii from Ala Dagh, E Taurus, Turkey). Characterised by the lax, upward-facing flowering spike.

Hyacinthella leucophaea

Hyacinthella leucophaea is quite distinct in having erect, linear leaves and pale blue to nearly white flowers. Grown from commercial seed, collected as H. pallens (now a synonym) from Cijevna, Montenegro.

If you are looking for small, spring-flowering bulbs with blue flowers, I hope you will consider the Hyacinthella species I described in this article.